The Action Point Checklist

Dear Madam or Sir:

Your role-playing game design features a mechanic for "Action Points" (otherwise known as Fate-, Fortune-, Hero-, Benefit-, Luck-, Karma-, Drama-, etc. Points). In your game, this is detrimental for all of the reasons that I've circled below.
  1. Your Action Points are purely abstract, and have no in-game reality to them; they require out-of-character thinking to use them.
  2. Your Action Points have a very long list of possible effects, that are difficult to remember in play.
  3. Your Action Points are advertised as "encouraging dramatic stunts", but are really better used defensively, to avoid villain success or being embarassed at simple tasks.
  4. Your Action Points require the players to anticipate where the "climax" of the story is.
  5. Your Action Points are being used to patch over otherwise unbalanced core game mechanics.
  6. Your Action Points for heroes are offset by the villains also having Action Points, and will be used to simply cancel each other out.
  7. Your Action Points are being used to enforce a pre-determined story, which is antithetical to the actual play of your game.
  8. Your Action Points have a mechanical complexity which is not worth the benefit they have on your game.
  9. Your Action Points require retroactive continuity (retcons; temporal backtracking) to adjudicate.
  10. Your Action Points can be spent and still fail at the action that is being attempted.
  11. Your Action Points are awarded by the GM for subjective things like humor or bravery, causing some players to feel that the game has become competitive or unfair.
  12. Your Action Points require additional die-rolls that break the pacing of the game.
Best regards,
Delta's D&D Hotspot


  1. Dan,

    I think you're being a mite harsh on the poor fate point mechanic.

    I agree with you that it can be misused and abused. However, I think, if properly implemented, it can add something to a game. Also, in limited quantities, being able to smooth out disastrous low points may be desirable for some game styles (for example -- a low magic game with no easy raise dead, but where lots of character death is not desired).

    One way that I think they are particularly useful is when they allow the players to up the ante. By spending a consumable fate point, the player is in effect saying, "This is important to me. I am going all in." Perhaps an AP system that imposed some sort of risk, a "go big or go home" system, would be more appropriate.

    "Sure, you failed that save. You can spend an AP to reroll it... But if you fail again, then you'll also take a fistful of damage dice."

    What do you think of the WW Storyteller System Willpower mechanic? It seems to address many of your concerns with AP systems.


  2. I like those that fall afoul of points one, three, and five. (Except for the false advertisement in point three. Let’s not bother with the “dramatic stunts” pitch.)

    OK, “like” may be a strong word.

    Most of the other points do indeed irritate me as well.

  3. Great list. My experience with Savage World's bennies had me in complete agreement all the way through.

    I haven't played D20 with Action Points, but embarrassment/annoyance over a failed skill roll is one of the main reasons I've come to loathe playing D20 games in the first place. I'd rather just roll max(2d20) all the time in the first place...

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  5. Exactly why I dislike action points. That said, the void points in Rokugan weren't bad precisely because they had an in-game connection. I modified them for use in a more traditional D&D game by calling void "wyrd". It wasn't a long campaign, but the idea seemed to work well.

  6. I think the Force points in WEG's Star Wars RPG worked pretty well and avoided a lot of your problems.

  7. Curiously, the cut-down system used in D&D 4th addresses virtually every criticism on this list. I’d actually be tempted to steal it for inclusion in other games.